Knives On Planes Outrage Grows: Will Passengers And Crew Be Safe?

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U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., on Sunday became the latest public figure to add his voice to the chorus of critics who oppose the Transportation Security Administration’s loosened policies regarding knives on planes.

TSA established a committee to review prohibited items last year, and, based on its conclusions, Administrator John S. Pistole said Tuesday the agency would allow billiard cues, golf clubs, hockey and lacrosse sticks, ski poles, small novelty baseball bats, and small pocket knives in carry-on luggage beginning April 25. Inclusion of the latter item, however, was not met with the level of support typically associated with relaxed enforcement.

TSA said it will allow knives with nonlocking blades smaller than 2.36 inches and less than ½ inch in width on planes as part of its “layered approach to security,” but Schumer said he could see few tangible benefits for passengers. On Sunday, he called on TSA to reverse its decision.

“These items are dangerous, and have not become less so in the years since they were banned from planes,” Schumer said at a news conference in New York. “Now is not the time for reduced vigilance, or to place additional burdens on TSA agents who should be looking for dangerous items.”

His plea came one day after U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., sent a letter to Pistole reminding him that “the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, demonstrated that in the confined environment of an airplane, even a small blade in the hands of a terrorist can lead to disaster.”

Markey cited concerns by flight attendants, airlines, and federal law-enforcement officers in his letter.

The Association of Flight Attendants, representing 60,000 flight attendants working for more than 20 airlines, said last week that it “strongly opposed” the TSA rule change, which it believes threatens security on planes.

“For years, AFA has partnered with TSA on important security issues, which makes it hard to understand why we were not consulted on this policy reversal,” lamented AFA International Vice President Sara Nelson, a Boston-based flight attendant with the United Airlines unit of United Continental Holdings Inc. (NYSE:UAL). “As support continues to build for keeping the ban on knives, we call on the TSA to rescind its policy change to ensure the safety of crewmembers and the traveling public.”

Flight-crew members filed roughly 100 complaints about unruly passengers last year. That number is down from previous years, but flight attendants fear that incidents of so-called air rage could escalate to a new level if small knives are allowed onboard.

TSA first relaxed its post-9/11 restrictions in 2005 when it permitted bladed weapons on passenger planes in carry-on baggage. Soon after, Markey pushed his so-called “Leave All Blades Behind Act,” but TSA refused to reverse course.

Delta Air Lines Inc. (NYSE:DAL), the world’s second-largest air carrier, became the first airline to speak out in opposition to the latest policy. Delta CEO Richard H. Anderson said he shared the “legitimate concerns” of flight attendants and warned the changes would do little to improve checkpoint delays. In a separate letter to Pistole, he said, “There are much more effective steps we can take together to streamline the security checkpoints with risk-based screening mechanisms.”

Jon Adler, national president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, questioned why TSA would choose to “elevate the risk of Americans getting injured” in light of resource and staff constraints placed on the organization by the recent federal budget sequestration.

“If the TSA policymakers were engaged in close quarter combat with a psycho wielding a two-inch blade at 30,000 feet,” Adler said, “they might reconsider the foolishness of their decision.”

Meanwhile, the trade association Airlines for America has been supportive of TSA while not specifically endorsing the policy.

TSA contended its latest decision aligns the agency more closely with International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO, standards.

“This is part of an overall risk-based security approach which allows Transportation Security Officers to better focus their efforts on finding higher threat items such as explosives,” TSA said in a statement last week defending the policy.

Box cutters, razor blades, and full-size bats remain on the prohibited-items list.

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